Firstly, I want to reflect on the fantastic news that Sevenoaks and Swanley not only met the national target of administering the first dose of the vaccine to the four most vulnerable groups by mid-February – but surpassed it. Figures produced on 25th February show that 29.7% of the Sevenoaks Constituency (the whole population – not just those 18+) have now been vaccinated. This makes us the second highest in Kent, and firmly places us in the top third for the whole of England. This is fantastic news – and testament to the hard work of our doctors, their staff, volunteers, pharmacists and hospitals.
As a result of this success being replicated across the country, the Prime Minister has now set out his roadmap for a cautious easing of national restrictions. I know, this lockdown has been incredibly hard for families and for businesses, so it is a huge relief to see light at the end of the tunnel.
The first priority is rightly schools. All the evidence shows that classrooms are the best places for our young people to be and that’s why I’ve said from the start that schools must be the last to close and the first to reopen. Their closure has had a devastating impact on many children’s mental health and academic attainment – while also placing a heavy burden on parents. I am working closely with Headteachers in preparation for school return, and I am enormously grateful for the work of our teachers locally in keeping schools open for those who need it, while also juggling remote learning.
I am also pleased to hear that care home residents will be able to nominate a named visitor to see them regularly, provided they test negative and wear PPE. This is something I have been calling for, as I know how incredibly difficult and heart-breaking the last year has been for so many families with relatives or friends in care.
While case rates in Sevenoaks have fallen substantially, our hospitals still have a very high number of Covid-19 patients on the wards; just under the number they had when we went into lockdown for the first time in 2020. This is representative of what is happening nationally. So, while the data is moving in the right direction, there is very little leeway in our hospital capacity for a surge in cases, and a surge is still possible. That is why we need to take things more slowly than would otherwise be the case and be absolutely certain that every step we are taking doesn’t lead to another lockdown.
Finally, I have spoken many times before about my support for the hospitality industry. This year has been particularly hard for restaurants and pubs, and I know from many conversations how difficult things have been in Sevenoaks for owners and staff – especially since we had extra restrictions because of surging virus rates late last year. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister confirm that the 10pm curfew will not be returning, and there will no longer be the need to order a substantial meal when ordering an alcoholic drink. Whilst we wait for the return, I am very aware of the need for continued support and I am making these representations to the Treasury ahead of Budget next week.
As ever, if you have any further questions or wish to discuss a specific case, please email me at email@example.com.
MP for Sevenoaks and Swanley
Below is a snapshot of what we have been working on. If there is anything, I can do to support you, please get in touch.
- It was a pleasure to join The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak at St. Paul's Church of England Primary School in Swanley for a virtual maths lessons with year six pupils. It was the highlight of my month to see the pupils doing so brilliantly, and they were a credit to Mr Hulme and Mr Ledger, who, along with all teachers locally are doing a fantastic job at teaching remotely. The session was recorded, so if you would like to watch the Q&A back please click here.
- Following the successful rollout of the vaccine, I visited Sevenoaks Medical Centre to say thank you to the doctors, nurses and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable residents. I was pleased to meet Amherst Medical Practice Manager Ravi Iyer and Dr Anjali Melethil, who along with Dr Anna-Louise Malan from the Edenbridge Medical Practice have been the driving force behind the successful vaccination programme administered by the Sevenoaks Primary Care Network. I also met and thanked Steve Davidsen, who set up the volunteer operation which is vital to ensure the smooth running of the vaccination process. I know the last few months have involved many late nights, and weekend working – and the challenge is only just beginning- but we really are all so thankful for all your hard work and dedication.
- It was also a pleasure to join the wonderful team at Life on High to help pack up the food they were freshly baking for staff on the Covid wards at Pembury Hospital – an initiative founded by Clare Dance-Harvey and Keith Regan at the start of the year. Up to 300 packages were being delivered weekly in order to provide a welcomed treat for the hard-working staff. It was brilliant to see Clare, Keith and the team in action and a huge thank you to all involved.
- I supported a letter to the Mayor of London, urging him to reconsider his intention to begin charging drivers to enter London. This border tax will cost drivers up to an extra £1,000 a year, and will have a detrimental impact for residents and business in Sevenoaks and Swanley who (in normal times) travel in and out of London for work, healthcare reasons and leisure.
- The last year has been incredibly difficult for our local high streets, but, whilst some landlords have shared the burden, others have not. I therefore asked the Secretary of State of Housing, Communities and Local Government what more the Government can do to encourage landlords to adjust rents for those businesses who are either struggling or have been unable to trade under the lockdown restrictions.
- At the start of the month I was very concerned about vaccine roll out to those who are housebound. I had been raising such concerns constantly with local health providers and I was delighted when local surgeries in Swanley, Hextable, South Darenth, Farningham and West Kingsdown confirmed that have had signed an agreement with Virgin Care to deliver the vaccine to all housebound patients. I thank all who made this possible.
- Following the snowy conditions, I also liaised with local councillors to ensure areas around the surgeries providing vaccinations were accessible and clear of snow. A huge thanks to Cllr Margaret Crabtree and Sevenoaks District Council Leader Peter Fleming who helped to resolve quickly the dangerous road and pathway between the Sevenoaks Medical Centre and the Station car park. My thanks also to the all those at Kent County Council and Sevenoaks District Council who cleared the snow and ice. In Swanley, town council staff also gritted the car park daily to keep it clear, as well as other parts of the town.
- Sadly, I have seen once again horrific pictures taken from a farm in the Halstead area. This is not the first time this particular location has been brought to my attention and I share the frustrations and anger of residents that despite numerous interventions, this situation has once again occurred. I have written to Animal and Plant Health Agency and Kent County Council on a number of occasions over the past 13 months to raise my concerns, and it has led to many site visits. Following the latest developments, I have called again for action to be escalated and taken with immediate effect. Such conduct is unacceptable, and it must be dealt with.
- Following the arrival of an unauthorised traveller encampment at the Sevenoaks Leisure Centre car park, I was in touch with Kent Police and Sevenoaks District Council regarding the matter. The incursion was on land owned by Sevenoaks District Council, so notice was served and legal proceedings commenced with the travellers leaving after the police became involved by issuing a Section 61 notice. The travellers unlawfully entered the site, and it was vital that they were moved on as quickly as possible. I continue to call for heavier sanctions against such illegal and disruptive activity.
- And finally, last week I held my latest Facebook Live. It was great to have so many people engaged in the session and thanks to all who joined. If you would like to watch it back please click here.